I approach politics from a place of logic and strategy, and I certainly don’t cry a lot when it comes to political campaigns. But that changed in Iowa this week.
The reason connects back 2009, when I was working on the campaign that eventually succeeded in winning marriage equality in Iowa. It was my honor to pick up the Court of Appeals decision from the clerk’s office, which stated in clear terms that we won. Full marriage. Unanimously decided. Iowa would become the first state in the Heartland to allow same-sex couples to marry. On the day that Iowa started issuing marriage licenses — April 27, 2009 (which happened to be my birthday) — our opponents called me out at an anti-gay rally and asked why God had not yet struck down this “homosexual activist.”
I didn’t cry then. I used the attack to double down on my commitment to win marriage equality.
Fast forward to February 3, 2020, the morning of the Iowa Caucus. I went for a run to the Court of Appeals and the gold-domed capitol building in Des Moines, taking a brief respite from volunteering for Pete Buttigieg. Having worked as the Pride Director for Obama for America in Colorado, I was struck by the energy I had been experiencing all weekend in Des Moines: the kind strangers on whose doors I knocked (some of whom may have attended that anti-gay rally); the enthusiasm for an openly gay mayor of South Bend; the volunteers from other campaigns who shared a sense of solidarity; the challenges of truth-telling in a world of anger; the familiar hope and change that can manifest when that anger is coalesced into action; the long lines to get into a Pete for America rally; the utter acceptance I felt walking down those Midwest streets with my arm around my husband just 16 years after President George W. Bush won re-election by demonizing our future marriage.
I can’t let this moment go without chronicling my observations as a volunteer from inside the Buttigieg campaign in Iowa. As a veteran of political and movement organizing, there are some observations which I believe all Democrats should take to heart as we look forward to removing Donald Trump from the White House in November. Sure, the news is temporarily focused on the failure of an app meant to pull the Iowa Caucus into the 21st century, but know that we have reason to feel more optimistic and energized for the fights ahead. My trip to Des Moines left me with three big surprises that I wish every voter knew.
1. Voters are ready to unify and win in November.
Knocking doors in Des Moines made one thing clear: Democrats, Independents, and, as Pete says, “future former Republicans” are laser focused on winning in November. The NBC News entrance poll found that 61% of caucus goers said they would “rather see the Democratic Party nominate a candidate who ‘can beat Donald Trump,’ while just one-third — 37 percent — want a nominee who ‘agrees with you on major issues.’” Of the hundreds of doors I knocked on and the caucus goers I talked with on Monday night, not one said they were only excited about one candidate and would stay home otherwise. The same goes for the volunteers I met from other campaigns. We’re all committed to be unified in November.
At the caucus I observed in a middle school gymnasium outside of Des Moines, Sen. Sanders was not a viable candidate after the first vote. I watched closely to see what would happen going into the second vote. Would they walk out? Or remain uncommitted? Or would they go to other campaigns and cast their votes for other candidates? Every single one of them chose the latter option — and the majority went to Pete.
I’m a realist, and it would be naïve to think that a prolonged primary wouldn’t make it harder to unite going into the Democratic convention. But I left Iowa with a new level of optimism that voters know what’s at stake and are ready to unite on November 3.
2. Pete Buttigieg doesn’t have a black problem as much as a media problem.
I heard repeatedly from black voters, volunteers, supporters, and surrogates of the broad support that exists for Pete among black voters. I was especially impressed by the many months of deliberation that Ryann Richardson, who currently holds the title of Miss Black American, put into her decision to endorse Pete Buttigieg. She has lamented the reluctance of the media to profile black voters who support Pete, which borderlines willful ignorance on the part of those entrusted with journalistic integrity. When questioned why she was standing with her black female peers behind Pete during his speech on Monday night, she replied:
When South Bend community organizer Gladys Muhammad introduced Pete at that event, she pointed to the “narrative that says blacks in South Bend don’t support Pete Buttigieg… Here I am, black and proud.”
There are black voters who don’t support Pete, as well as many that don’t know him yet according to polls. While Pete has more black support than five of his Democratic contenders, the media is not framing low support of those other candidates as being problematic. According to a Washington Post-Ipsos poll (Jan. 2–8), 35% of black voters have “never heard of” Pete, compared to only 3% and 5% for former Vice President Joe Biden (D) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), respectively.
More broadly, this media problem isn’t isolated to Pete’s candidacy. The enraged narratives you hear in headlines about every candidate are almost always indicative of only a small percentage of voters — often on Twitter — and they are easily debunked by real, on-the-ground conversations.
There is plenty of reason for optimism in this discussion. According to Morning Consult’s most recent national poll, 29% of African Americans are more motivated to vote for Pete in their state primary after the result of the Iowa Caucus. He has picked up recent endorsements from leaders of color, including in South Carolina, and the ABC News Iowa Caucus entrance poll shows the broad support that Pete had on Monday, including earning the second highest support among black voters.
All candidates need to do more and be better at earning the respect and votes of black voters, including Pete. Especially in a moment like this, we need someone who can rally the base and build the coalition to win up and down the ballot.
3. Pete’s campaign organizing is the best.
As a type-A political operative, I have a high standard for how I judge campaigns, especially GOTC and field operations. That standard got a little higher after Des Moines.
Typically, when you sign up for a volunteer shift, you might get someone that confirms it with you and sends you the details so you know where to go. Pete’s campaign not only did that, but they also followed up again right beforehand via email and text to confirm your attendance. Volunteer “flakes” can erode any field plan, so this was both smart and strategic. Then, once your shift has ended, you got another text and email asking for you to reply to rate your shift — GOOD, BAD, MISSED — and then how would you describe your experience in one message.
Pete’s organizing is next level. The result was clear on Monday night — a winning campaign that outperformed expected metrics, including in the overwhelming majority of Obama/Trump precincts. Pete qualified in nearly 90% of suburban precincts and put together the widest coalition of any candidate according to publicly released entrance polls.
As we head into the final Get Out The Vote (GOTV) weekend for the first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire, I am even more energized by the thought of Pete Buttigieg serving as our Democratic nominee and the 46th President of the United States. If you share my optimism and eagerness, I hope you will join the campaign and support Pete for America.
Twelve years after my first trip to Iowa, I returned to help another unlikely presidential candidate, and I knew the world was shifting again. As I stood on the grounds of the Iowa Capitol on Monday, reflecting on the kindness, drive, and precision with which Pete Buttigieg’s campaign is inspiring the country, I cried and felt a new, yet familiar mantra building up inside of me.
Yes. We. Will.